Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Does religious belief damage the health of a society, or is it necessary to provide the moral and ethical foundations of a healthy society? - Dawkins

Richard Dawkins at The Sunday Times Oxford Literary Festival

Richard Dawkins

Reposted from:


Does religious belief damage the health of a society, or is it necessary to provide the moral and ethical foundations of a healthy society? Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion in discussion with Professor Alister McGrath, Professor of Historical Theology at Oxford Univ, chaired by Joan Bakewell

Listen to Part 1

Listen to Part 2

Listen to more talks from Oxford, including Philip Pullman, Christopher Hitchens, AA Gill and Lady Antonia Fraser

reposted from: timesonline
my: highlights / emphasis / key points / comments

Selected Comments from Times Online:

I was frustrated by the quality and brevity of this debate. What interested me was Dawkins's hypocritical argument about what is done in the name of religion. When McGrath carefully (and slowly) laid out that religion can be a good thing, and positive influence on society, Dawkins threw it back and said he wasn't interested in whether it had a positive effect on society or not. Then why does he spend so much time highlighting fundamentalist people of every religion, building a straw man of extremists and lunatics before gleefully setting fire to it? Sorry, Prof - can't have it both ways.

Secondly, the debate got annoyingly sidetracked onto the nature of McGrath's faith and whether he thought all religions were basically the same. It amazes me that people can hold this view, when the most cursory glance at the worlds five or six major religions show huge contradictions and disparities. Why claim they are all the same and leading to the same God? Can't really see how this is logical.

James, Hammersmith, London

I'm no atheist, but McGrath did seem rather feeble. His book is rather better. He seemed to be reticent in really attacking Dawkin's position. The last questioner in the debate made what seemed to me the crucial point: we all have faith - we have to. At the end of the day, observations cannot be made independently of the theories of the observer. Furthermore, both observations and theories can only be reasoned with on the basis of presuppositions which are held by faith because there is no alternative. For example, faith in the laws of logic. Both theists and atheists have faith. We all build complex thought structures to make sense of the world we live in. The question is, which makes more sense of the world and ourselves: theism or atheism? The answer to me seems to be theism.

John Denning, DURHAM, UK

"Science can only ask how, it cannot ask why."

Perhaps I could refer you to a passage in Dawkins' latest book, 'The God Delusion' :

'It is a tedious cliche (and unlike many cliches, it isn't even true) that science concerns itself with how questions, but only theology is equipped to answer why questions. What on Earth is a why question? Not every English sentence beginning with the word 'why' is a legitimate question. Why are unicorns hollow? Some questions simply do not deserve an answer. What is the colour of abstraction? What is the smell of hope? The fact that a question can be phrased in a gramatically correct English sentence doesn't make it meaningful, or entitle it to our serious attention. Nor, even if the question is a real one, does the fact that science cannot answer it imply that religion can.

Hope this helps...

Miles Kershaw, Shrewsbury, United Kingdom

How can reading the Bible save your life? There isn't any evidence on the truth value of anything written in it. It is nothing more than a fictitious, vacuous, and utterly useless piece of literature. Believing such preposterous nonsense is surely an insult to one's intelligence.

Derek, Waverly, United States

A theologian like Alister McGrath, who has little grasp of other religions apart from Christianity, should go back to school and learn his craft before engaging in public debates. Eloquence of itself just won't cut it . I thought the less of McGrath, the more I heard from him.

His Christianity is clearly "fundamentalist", considering that he believes in the historicity of the virgin birth and literal miracles such as the resurrection which both violate the laws of physics. Clearly, these are stories no different from other stories we find in other religious myth. How come a professor believes these things actually happened and not see them for what they are, legends perhaps conveying some message? I sure would like to see what evidence he has for his beliefs. All things considered, McGrath arguments were extremely weak and coming from a professor, very disappointing.

Radhica Laukaran, St. James, Trinidad

"I can't disprove God, but I can definitely disprove the Bible so that is a start towards a safer world. The best way to destroy a thing is to know it. If you really read the Bible it will make you an Atheist."

What a ridiculous claim! Do you honestly think you can disprove the Bible? Every argument that site brings up can and has been countered. And if you really read the Bible, and understand it, it will save your life.

Science can only ask how, it cannot ask why. It defines laws by observation and interpretation. It is important in reaching conclusions about nature, but it has limitations. It is not the be-all-and-end-all of knowledge.

David, Kilkenny, Ireland

the problem of the BELIEVER is: s/he believes they know the truth (and, therefore, can never come to the truth).

Moreover, any challenge/s to their beliefs and faith; is perceived as a threat !!!

Bill T, Springfield, IL

Much is made of this supposed issue. Those who choose to believe in one or more of the diverse gods that human mythology offers, have thus stepped outside the possibility of discourse. To discuss something that is "not of this world" is mere pretence, since its attributes depend solely upon the whim of the believer.

Nowhere within the vast literature of all the worlds theologies is there even a scrap of evidence for a god - just stories, allegories, hints and innuendos about your fate if you don't agree. Magic is the recourse of the unhappy (or uneducated) who are unable to experience the excitement of living in a deeply complex universe - and the joy of unravelling its many mysteries.

The "immortal soul" is a bag over your head with pictures on the inside - available free from a church, temple or mosque near you.

Sean Shalor, Coventry, UK

McGrath comes from the Tony Blair school of answering questions. The words are eloquently spoken and in the right grammatical order, but completely devoid of any meaning. It seems his religion inspires him to commit himself to absolutely no viewpoint on any topic - ironically, the theist appears to be the nihilist.

McGrath's positions are mirages - when one probes for something more solid from him, he evaporates into meaninglessness only to reappear elsewhere. In the end, it becomes tiring and timewasting.

Rtambree, London,

Proof, as if proof were needed, that McGrath is constitutionally unable to give a straight answer to a straight question. There's theology for you.

Steve, Leicester,

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